HARLAN COUNTY HAD ITS SHARE
OF COLORFUL CHARACTERS ©

by Holly Timm
[originally published 4 March 1987
Harlan Daily Enterprise Penny Pincher]
The outlaws and gunslingers of America's western frontier and semi-heroes and legends. Many a western town proudly flaunts their colorful past, violent and illegal as it may have been. Until the 20th century, Harlan county was also a frontier, isolated by its mountains and we should be no more ashamed of our colorful past then Dodge City or Tombstone are. Many are the stories of gun fights and outlaws, including but not limited to, our many moon-shiners, who were actually more active in the 20th century.

In 1896, a gun duel was fought somewhere up on Martins Fork. The cause of the fight has not been passed down, but as relatives tell it, Gilford Fee, shooting first, mortally wounded his cousin, Lewis Fee, who then returned the fire, instantly killing Gilford.

Hezekiah Clem, son of William Clem and Amy Hall, is said to have had a hand in the killing of John B. Clay about 1856. It is certain that he was hung in 1860 for stabbing Benjamin Irvin to death in 1859. Hezekiah's mother was something of a character herself. Known as `Tupsey', she once shot a big buck in the ford at Mount Pleasant. When the hunters came up she refused to give them any part of it. Hezekiah's wife was Joicy Farmer, daughter of one of our early settlers, Lewis Farmer.

There are numerous stories about `Devil Jim' Turner. He was the son of James Turner and Elizabeth Clay, sister of the John B. Clay mentioned above. In his lengthy interview with the Rev. John J. Dickey, Wood Lyttle related a number of incidents regarding Jim Turner, "the noted desperado of the mountains," as he put it. As Lyttle tells it, Jim Turner stole cattle and hogs and killed 10-15 men and everybody was afraid to touch him or do anything about it. "His father was a devout man, a good Christian and also his grandfather. They were Methodists. Jim would pray at night and go out the next day and carry on his meanness like the veriest devil." Turner served as a private in Co. D of the 49th Kentucky Infantry during the Civil War, but also allegedly was a guerilla, an outlaw, who killed men on both sides for money. It is also said that it was he who burned the Harlan County Courthouse during the Civil War. He was accused and tried for the killing about 1869 of his cousin David Middleton supposedly in ambush with Andy Fields.

One of Turner's cohorts was Francis Pace, son of Simeon Pace and Nancy Hall and a cousin on the Hall side of Hezekiah Clem as well. Turner and Pace were sent to the state penitentiary for the murder of David Middleton and were still there in 1890 when they are listed in the veteran's census taken that year as inmates at the state prison, in Frankfort. Francis Pace had served as a private in the Civil War in Co. G of the First Ohio Calvary. Several area young men went north to join the Ohio regiments early in the war when Kentucky was still trying to maintain neutrality. Francis Pace's wife was Levina Forrester, daughter of Jeremiah and Mary Osborn Forrester. She was often alone as he is said to have spent several terms in the penitentiary.

back to the index

Leslie
Harlan
Bell
SE KY Homepage
Knox
Clay
Letcher

Purely Decorative Image

5739 visitor

Copyright Notice: All files on this site are copyrighted by their creator. They may be linked to but may not be reproduced on another site without specific permission from Holly Timm [ htimm@comcast.net]. Although public information is not in and of itself copyrightable, the format in which they are presented, the notes and comments, etc., are. It is however, quite permissable to print or save the files to a personal computer for personal use ONLY.

email comments to
htimm@comcast.net

last edited Thursday, 05-Jun-2008 14:32:26 MDT